Just what Mathieu Perreault needs — more kids to look after.
Perreault, a dad of three children all under the age of three — including twins who celebrate first birthdays next week — has quickly realized that being counted on as a nurturing father figure doesn’t end when he leaves home.
He’s offering up plenty of support and guidance to his two young Winnipeg Jets linemates as well.
The 30-year-old from Drummondville, Que., is the elder statesman on a training-camp trio centred by 21-year-old Jack Roslovic. Finnish-born Kristian Vesalainen, who just turned 19 in June, is skating on the left wing.
Mentoring the talented youngsters is as much a part of Perreault’s daily routine at Bell MTS Iceplex as lacing his skates, stuffing his long black locks into his helmet and pushing weights in the training room.
“You go home and parent, come here do the same thing — that’s funny. It kind of feels like that, to be honest,” he said, joking with reporters Tuesday, officially the fifth day of camp for the NHL squad.
“Yeah, a young mentor, really, only 30 years old. But, when you look at our roster, I might be the fourth- or fifth-oldest guy on our team right now. It’s a young man’s game now. It’s nice to help these guys, show them what I’ve learned over the years, and show them my work ethic.
“I always work as hard as I can, so I expect the same from my linemates.”
Formed by head coach Paul Maurice prior to Saturday’s first on-ice session, the unit remained fastened together Monday in Winnipeg’s 2-1 triumph over the visiting Minnesota Wild in the first pre-season test for both Central Division teams.
The early returns had them as the Jets’ best forward group of the night.
Roslovic was terrific at the dot, winning eight of 11 draws. He was dogged in his pursuit of the puck, delivered some crisp, accurate passes while on the power play and was often the first man back to aid his defencemen when they were pressured. All the stuff responsible centres are required to do.
Perreault was, in a word, Perreault. The motor never quit, he battled for loose pucks against far bigger men and created several good scoring opportunities, although, like a few stretches last season, he was snakebitten.
Vesalainen didn’t flash the big shot that has raised eyebrows in camp. But he, too, made life tough on Minnesota defenders, stealing and protecting pucks, effectively working a North American cycle.
“We had some good offensive-zone shifts. We’re just trying to get to know each other a bit, so it will obviously get better. But for a first one it wasn’t too bad,” said Perreault, who had 17 goals and 22 assists in 70 games last season, his ninth in the league and fourth in Winnipeg. “We’ve got potential to score goals. We’re three guys that can put up points, work hard. I see our line as one that can produce and definitely make a difference for our team trying to win games.”
“(Roslovic’s) a really good skater. (Vesalainen’s) a big guy. He’s good at holding onto pucks in the corners and in the offensive zone. So that’s a great quality to have. I just try to talk to him as much as I can, give him little details on how we play here, our system and stuff. But for a first impression, he looked pretty good.”
Roslovic played 31 games (5G, 9A) for Winnipeg a year ago, with the bulk of his time on the wing. His meteoric rise from just a year of U.S. college hockey (2015-16) to top-line centre in the American Hockey League to a successful mid-season audition last year with the Jets had onlookers pegging him as the one to replace Paul Stastny between Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers on the second line.
Bryan Little’s there instead, and Maurice’s decision to align Roslovic with a gutsy veteran in Perreault could pay big dividends, especially if the two churn up enough muck to free up space for Vesalainen to score.
“It was a good line. We played well, played a lot of minutes (against the Wild),” Roslovic said. “Kristian is just getting into the swing of the NHL game. He’s really starting to settle in. Frenchie (Perreault) and I are trying to help him out, and Frenchie’s still trying to help me out with a lot of things. It was a good building block.”
Speaking after Tuesday’s morning practice session, Maurice was quick to praise the hard-working trio.
“I like that we have two guys playing with Matty Perreault right now that can learn from him. Matty plays at the right level. And both those other two guys, being so young, we’re always saying, ‘on the puck, get them to play harder, at a higher pace, a higher rate,’ so they have a really good veteran that does that,” Maurice said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the league, but he plays as hard as the biggest guy. Right now, we’ll leave them together for another couple of games, but he’s got some good mentorship going on there.”
Maurice said he’s optimistic about the value Vesalainen, a legitimate contender for a roster spot, could have to the hockey club, beyond just offence.
“There’s an all-aroundness to his game. When you watch him in practice, you see some things. He’s got a really heavy shot, he’s smooth with the puck, he skates well for a big guy. He’s not late getting there. Usually, your first-year guys don’t really want to go in the corner first unless that’s how they got there. Your skill guys are late to pucks, (but) he’s not at all. The tight turn in the far corner in the third period, controlling the puck on the wall, that takes awhile for a player to get.
“If you’re asking me today after two days if this young man’s going to play in the National Hockey League, I think there’s enough there. You look at some guys, and you think they’re going to, but I can’t tell you the timeline. I think the timeline’s not too, too long with him. He’s got to get into heavier, faster games, and he’s going to get that opportunity.”
The Jets will be on the ice again today, split into two groups at the Iceplex. The Edmonton Oilers host the Jets on Thursday night in pre-season action, although Winnipeg’s roster won’t be announced until today.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).